Cricket: England v South Africa

Simon Hughes: Swann decision was based on 'Moneyball' logic

The logic behind England's decision was clear, but the DRS has changed the game to make the offspinner's role more vital

Simon Hughes: Swann decision was based on 'Moneyball' logic

It was clearly ironic when Kevin Pietersen took a wicket with his second ball of the game. It brought into focus the absence of Graeme Swann.

I didn’t agree with England’s decisions, but I respect the reasoning behind it. They use a statistical-based approach similar to the one used by the Oakland Athletics baseball team in the book (and film) Moneyball.

They would have known that spinners have played an insignificant role at Headingley in recent years. Shane Warne hated playing here and Ashley Giles didn’t take a wicket for ages at this ground.

The slow left-armer Monty Panesar took a few wickets against Pakistan in 2006 and the legspinner Danish Kaneria has had some success. But no offspinners has been successful in the modern era, apart from two part-timers - Chris Gayle and now Pietersen. They have both taken a wicket apece

So, there was a lot of logic behind England’s decision to drop Swann. But one argument against using this statistical approach for offspinners is the use of the DRS, which has changed the game in the past two years and has made Swann a far more dangerous bowler.

England will also have added into the mix the fact that Swann is carrying an injury and he was easily nullified at The Oval.

There was probably also an element of thinking that they had to get Steven Finn into the team somehow, but they didn’t want to drop TIm Bresnan.

In the event, South Africa got 419 runs and the four-seamer policy looked questionable. One of the consequences of leaving Swann out was Alastair Cook dropping Petersen at second slip – where Swann is so good - on day one. I don’t think South Africa would have made such a big score if Swann had been in the side, but in the end it may not have made a huge difference.